Wall Street finished an uncertain session mixed Wednesday, encouraged by a drop in oil prices but worried about disappointing earnings from Time Warner Inc. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index inched upward and reached a four-year high for the fourth time in six sessions.
One day after the S&P 500 and Nasdaq composite index broke through their June 2001 levels, investors appeared willing to wait for better news. With the Labor Department’s jobs report due Friday and the Federal Reserve’s latest decision on interest rates next Tuesday, investors were considered unlikely to bid stocks much higher in the meantime.
“I think this market is just going to have to grind higher, little by little, and probably sell off a little here and there, at least until the Fed meeting,” said Scott Wren, equity strategist for A.G. Edwards & Sons.
While Time Warner’s worse-than-expected results pressured stocks, investors were relieved by the drop in oil futures, coming as the government’s latest petroleum inventory report showed a slight rise in crude stockpiles. After reaching a new intra-day record of $62.50 early in the session, a barrel of light crude settled at $60.86, down $1.03 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 13.85 points, or 0.1 percent, at the close, while the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index rose 0.92 point, or 0.1 percent, to its best close since June 12, 2001. The Nasdaq composite index lost 1.34 points, or 0.1 percent.
Investors were disappointed in the latest reading of the Institute for Supply Management’s services index. The ISM index, which measures growth in the service sector of the economy, fell to 60.5 in July, lower than the 61 reading expected by economists and down from 62.2 in June.
Even as oil prices fell, some analysts worried that the bullish earnings season — more than two-thirds of companies have exceeded Wall Street’s profit forecasts — is masking the effects that high energy prices could have on third- and fourth-quarter earnings.
“This market has reacted to earnings news without thinking about the effects that $60 a barrel oil could have on the third and fourth quarters and beyond,” said Brian Bruce, director of global investments, PanAgora Asset Management Inc. in Boston. “The good news from companies still continues to create a halo effect around stocks, but if $60 is the new equilibrium for oil prices, that’ll create a problem down the road.”
Time Warner fell 15 cents to $17.27 after the media conglomerate said it will set aside $3 billion to settle lawsuits filed by investors angry over the 2000 merger with America Online Inc. The company also posted earnings that, after one-time charges, were short of Wall Street’s expectations by a penny per share.
In merger news, German sports apparel company Adidas-Salomon AG said it will purchase American rival Reebok International Ltd. for $3.8 billion, or $59 per share. The move will give Adidas, a strong European brand, more exposure to the North American market and allow it to better compete with market leader Nike Inc. Reebok surged 30 percent, or $13.19, to $57.14, while Nike gained $1.09 to $86.92.
Record sales helped Internet media company RealNetworks Inc. to post a profit in the second quarter, beating Wall Street’s break-even estimates. The company also raised its full-year profit forecasts. RealNetworks climbed 7.9 percent, or 40 cents, to $5.45.
XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. was up 46 cents at $34.90 as media reports said the satellite radio provider struck a deal with The New York Times Co.’s new radio unit, which will provide news and feature programming for XM. The New York Times rose 32 cents to $31.34.
Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average rose 0.4 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 closed up 0.1 percent, France’s CAC-40 lost 0.2 percent and Germany’s DAX index fell 0.2 percent.